training while traveling

Training While Traveling: Staying Fit and Eating Right Away From Home

By Mara Abbott
CTS Contributing Editor

My past two weeks: Move to a new state, start a new job, and then spend eight days based out of a hotel room in Houston for a conference. As a single, pro racer, I had strong admiration for athletes who successfully structured their training around career and family obligations. As I’m now working the first strict 8–5 job of my life, it shouldn’t take too long for me to find out if I can measure up.

Still, as I’ve been holed up in the Hampton Inn, learning from the top investigative journalism editors and reporters in the country, I’ve been pleased to learn that many of the on-the-road habits I honed as a racer actually carry over quite nicely to the kind of travel that requires business casual and a conference badge. Whether you travel regularly or only on occasion, here are some of my top tips for staying on target when you are away from home.

Build a kitchen

In a hotel? I immediately check to see if my room comes with a mini-fridge, and if it doesn’t, I try to call ahead to negotiate one. Even if the hotel charges a fridge fee, I am confident I will always be able to pay off the bill in affordable snacks and picnic dinners. I’ve had extra-mile teammates who packed a flexible cutting board and pocketknife in their (checked) luggage, but I’ve also found that most anything can be sawed with plastic flatware if you work at it long enough.

I always travel with a sack of quick oats, and I have made a farm’s worth of hard-boiled eggs in my travel electric teakettle. If you are staying in an Airbnb or other vacation rental, your job is much simpler — just look for a property that has access to a kitchenette. Having healthy snacks on hand will help keep you in control of your nutrition — and hunger pangs — throughout the day and evening.

Find the nearest grocery store

Check out a map of your lodging and search for the nearest grocery stores. Summertime Houston didn’t have a lot that enticed me to extend my stay, but I did find a spectacular grocery with a deli and a salad bar just a five-minute walk from my downtown hotel.

Before you arrive, map out the best way to get to the store, whether that is walking, on a bus, or via ride-share, and stock up on veggies, fruit, and simple snacks like yogurt, deli meat, or cheese to have on hand. Yes — sometimes it seems like an incredibly arduous task, but for me, the comfort of knowing I will be well-nourished throughout my trip and I can take care of myself on budget is always worth the effort.

Check your commute

How far will you be staying from the conference center or office where you will be working? Many cities have bike share options like B-Cycle that offer monthly or weekly subscriptions, and can be an inexpensive way to commute. There is no better way to experience a new place than from the seat of a commuter bike, and the exceptional glee that comes from opening and closing a day of work with a bit of fresh air. You can also check with local bike shops to see if they would offer a deal on a commuter for a few days, or even look on Craigslist or Airbnb to see if anyone would offer you a temporary rental.

Plan your workouts in advance.

Communicate with your coach ahead of time to set specific goals for your travel periods. If you go into a travel period with a schedule and realistic expectations, you will be able to come out of it feeling confident and empowered rather than guilt-ridden or stressed. Once you have your prescribed workouts, look at your daily itinerary, figure out where you will fit them, and commit to making it a non-negotiable part of your day. Frequently, early-morning workouts are the easiest to protect from surprise commitments or enticing happy hour opportunities.

Make your breakfast count

A great hotel breakfast can help you stay fueled and on budget during a long trip, and can save you a bit of time that can then be dedicated to your morning workout. Many hotel breakfast buffets are laden with high-fat and high-sugar treats you may not have all the time at home. Just because the bacon and Danishes are there, doesn’t mean you need eat them (every morning). Depending on your moral compass, you can even grab an extra hard-boiled egg, a bagel, and a piece of fruit to stash in your bag in case your schedule doesn’t allow for a proper lunch break.

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Keep moving

If you find yourself sitting for extended periods, seek out ways to break it up, whether that is with a well-timed bathroom break (fringe benefit of proper hydration), offering to get coffee for the crew, or convincing your colleagues to stand for a two-minute stretch break at the top of every hour. Uninterrupted chair time can be tough on your low back and make for tight legs.

When I was racing, I always traveled with a Manduka eKO Superlite yoga mat. It came to Houston with me, and I tried to make sure I got it out for 15 minutes every night before bed. As an unpaid and genuine endorsement, this mat is a marvel:  It’s small enough rolled up to fit in the water bottle holder of a backpack, but it is still very sticky and durable and is the perfect match for the carpet of any hotel room.

Shower in your shorts

If you aren’t interested in fitting a full week’s worth of workout apparel in your carry-on (or worse, carrying a week’s worth of sweaty workout clothes back home), try hopping in the shower fully clothed after your morning workout. Wash the clothes, hang them to dry, and you can pack light and still show up to your first meeting of the day smelling sweet.

See the opportunity

It’s unlikely that you will be hitting a weekly volume record while on a business trip, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t integrate your travel into your training schedule. Before you leave, research what fitness options will be available, whether that’s a hotel gym, a local rec center that offers day passes, a nearby trail or a handy set of stairs and a heavy book or two. Evaluate your options with your coach — this might be the perfect opportunity to focus on often-forgotten keys to performance like mobility, strength, or recovery. This can set you up to effectively raise the intensity once you’re back on home turf. A little forced variety is sometimes a gift in disguise on the way to reaching your goals.

Do you have any tried-and-true tips that I missed? Any advice for me or the rest of the CTS community? Share it in the comments below!

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Comments 12

  1. I too travel with my oatmeal for breakfast as well as almonds and cranberries for snacking. I also look for gyms that provide daily passes. Some universities have a great 50 meter pools with lap swimming in the mornings for a small fee.

  2. Mostly driving by car, I can take one or two kettlebells with me and get the workout done Darlehen in the morning. I need to have breakfast quickly after the Workout because of the high intensity. Whenever possible I try to stay in renowned Hotels such as Hilton, Marriott or radisson since a healthy breakfast is guaranteed.

  3. I am a cyclist but find packing a bike for a business trip is too much of a hassle. I bring my pedals, wrenches/hex keys, cycling shoes and have no problem swapping pedals on the hotel gym bike (if they have one). Also bring a jump rope and plan for being relegated to doing a lot of burpees if all else fails.

  4. I use google earth to locate a quality running track. It is usually pretty easy to find a high school with a decent track. Then I can do a warm up run on the way there or take a cab – either way, I know I can get a quality running workout without getting lost or misjudging time and distance.

  5. I like to reduce grains whenever possible so I am not a huge oatmeal fan. So here is my “instant” breakfast porridge – I make it in bulk and take what I need with me. It packs well in a suitcase. I can always find hot water when traveling.
    For single serving: combine in coffee grinder or food processor before trip:
    1 TBS organic raw (sprouted if possible) pumpkin seeds
    1 TBS organic raw (sprouted if possible) sunflower seeds
    1 TBS organic raw (sprouted if possible) flax seeds (or meal)
    1 TBS organic raw (sprouted if possible) chia seeds (or meal)
    Stir in:
    1 TBS organic raw hemp seeds
    coconut milk powder for 1 serving
    2 TBS organic raw unsweetened fine coconut flakes
    1/2 tsp. organic ground cinnamon
    1 TBS coarsely chopped raw organic walnuts or nut of choice, opt.
    Dried sweetener of choice (monk fruit powder, stevia powder, Lakanto gold) to taste depending on sweetness (or you can add liquid stevia drops after the porridge has been reconstituted but then you must bring it with you).
    Fresh or freeze-dried blueberries, strawberries or fruit of choice
    To reconstitute add 1/2 – 1 cup hot water to dry ingredients and stir to combine; let thicken for a minute or two; add sweetener of choice. Top with fruit. Feel free to increase/decrease amounts of seeds, nuts; add protein powder, etc.

  6. As someone who once spent up to eleven months a year on the road, I’ll add a dozen more tips to an already great article.
    – Bring one suitcase for yourself and another for fitness and cooking gear.
    – Good cooking knives in a roll up case and a large cutting board that fits in the bottom of your suitcase are worth their weight in gold.
    – Take at least good, coarse salt, pepper, and your favorite spices. Cajon and Greek seasoning are good on nearly everything!
    – Even if the hotel has a great gym, still bring a TRX, exercise bands, and running shoes. It’s not uncommon to go to the hotel gym and discover an entire college athletic team beat you there.
    – Stay in tall hotels and run the steps. They will make your legs and lungs strong.
    – Consider a one-burner stove, one good pot, and one good pan. They take space in your suitcase but are often worth it.
    – Bring food containers with you. Buy fresh veggies from the grocery store, cut them up, and you’ll always have something crunchy to munch on.
    – Take a water bottle everywhere.
    – At home, freeze leftovers in plastic containers. Take them on trips so you can eat great before you make it to a grocery store on the road. Bring them in a soft cooler that fits under your aircraft seat. Make sure your ice pack is frozen, though, or the TSA will take it.
    – If driving, take a large cooler and all the frozen meals you need. Include your bike and bike trainer too.
    – Musli is a great for breakfast. Mix rolled oats, cut up apples, bananas, nuts, coconut, etc. and let them soak overnight in milk. Yum!
    – Find a quiet corner in the airport and get in a body-weight workout. Or bust out the exercise bands. Or do lunges up and down the corridors for 30-60 minutes. Or run the steps in the parking garage.

    I could go on for a month, but I’ll stop there. I hope that helps someone.

  7. I too travel with my oatmeal for breakfast as well as almonds and cranberries for snacking. I also look for gyms that provide daily passes. Some universities have a great 50 meter pools with lap swimming in the mornings for a small fee. MeetUp groups also are a great resource for finding active people in a new location.

  8. +1 for AirBnBs for reasons you mention!

    YMCAs: Often times it’s not practical to bike while traveling. Local Ys are inexpensive for day passes and great for getting caught up/ahead on strength training (and other cardio if you wish).

  9. I find it beneficial to workout the day I arrive or at first opportunity in the morning to build confidence that I won’t let the business trip get the best of me.

  10. Great advice for any frequent domestic business traveller…less so if your business travel includes long haul flights. Arriving in Beijing at 8:00 AM, find driver, transfer to hotel, shower, fresh clothes, meeting at 10:00 until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Dinner is practically a state affair that runs late. Next morning, a quick body weight workout, transfer to the airport, flight to Shanghai….that was my life for close to 20 years…I don’t miss it. Even domestic travel has its challenges. I concede that Hilton properties (like Hampton Inns) have a pretty decent breakfast that makes it easy to get fresh fruit, yogurt and other healthier options (avoid that bucket of batter and the waffle maker….). In the end, attending a conference is really like a vacation as the schedule tends to be more flexible…but if your life is ruled by a gruelling series of meetings and airports, not so easy.

  11. Great tips! Here is one that I have used in the past: if you are staying in the same location for more than a couple of nights, ship your bike to your hotel via UPS or FedEx so that it is there when you arrive. When you are ready to check out, simply pack your bike in the same box and and have your shipper pick it up. Of course, call the hotel ahead of time to make sure that its ok, and call the day that it is shipped to give them a heads up. Having your own properly fitted bike beats a rental any day. The costs of shipping are about the same as a rental, and yoy dont have to worry about crashing rented property.

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